Un Destino Todavía Incierto: Una investigación sobre Villa 31 y su lucha para conseguir una solución sostenible

Colin L. Felsman, SIT Study Abroad

Southern Cone: Regional Integration, Development and Social Change


Despite its location in the heart of the cosmopolitan capital of Buenos Aires, Villa 31 remains a historic landmark of poverty stretching between the city’s transportation hub of Retiro and the growing business district of Puerto Madero. With roots in the industrialization period of the 1930’s, Villa 31 still stands as a testament to the sheer contradictions of Argentine society. Throughout its history Villa 31 has withstood attempts at eradication, most notably during the military dictatorship of the 1970’s, and during the 1990’s. Still, the future of Villa 31 remains one marked by uncertainty. But with a population estimated at larger than 25,000—and growing every day—it seems highly unlikely that any mass eviction will succeed.

This project came to light after reflection and initial investigation of the various political perspectives present in this highly contentious case. To that end this paper evaluates the position and power of various stakeholders in the process as they relate to the residents of Villa 31. The core interest is to analyze how the historical tensions and current mechanisms in place inhibit the formation of a viable development plan and create a visible disconnect between the hopes of vecinos (those living in the villa), and the actual debate. It is critical to note that the lack of agency for residents of Villa 31, not only has negative long-term impacts, but also results in a lack of basic services and the proliferation of rumors and animosity between residents that stifles strong collective action.

In completing this study, I was fortunate enough to spend substantial time interacting with various residents of the villa, as well as interviewing numerous social actors involved in the process. To familiarize the reader with the realities of daily life in Villa 31, this paper begins with an ethnographic section providing anecdotal evidence. Next, it provides an overview of the history of Villa 31 with special focus on community organization and numerous attempts at eradication. Finally, it takes a more theoretical approach in analyzing the various political practices and structures which to date have prevented a sustainable resolution. In closing, it seeks to outline various areas for improvement and offer an optimistic overview of the components necessary to reach a just and viable development plan.